Someone let me loose in the Library. Again.
The Art of Being Short
“I would also suggest that any aspiring writer begin with short stories. These days, I meet far too many young writers who try to start off with a novel right off, or a trilogy, or even a nine-book series. That’s like starting in at rock climbing by tackling Mt. Everest. Short stories help you learn your craft.” – George R.R. Martin
The Sandwich Library is this epic place, stuffed full of history, architecture, cool people, and endless stories. They also staff this brave woman (Re: Kathy Johnson) who said to me a few months back, “Kate – can you teach a short story workshop?”
Of course I said yes, because well . . . why not? I mean, I was crazy enough to jump in with all those fish that time in Mexico when the party boat guy said they were American-eating piranhas because, well, GIRL POWER and what not, and the captain was kinda a jerk and . . . ummm.
You know what? Nevermind. In fact, forget all that Mexico party boat stuff because it’s kinda rich with blackmail potential and there is a photo floating around somewhere and . . . OMG, just nevermind!!
Back to the whole point: So, Ms. Johnson asked that I teach the Short Story Workshop and I thought to myself, “Kate – this can’t be anywhere near the equivalent of jumping off that stupid boat in Cozumel.” CRUD. I just mentioned THAT story again.
I will admit that I kinda ignored the little voice in my head that was saying, “Hey – STUPID! You write HUGE books!” Let’s face it – that little voice is pretty irritating (mine occasionally sounds like Caillou), so ignoring it is a totally normal thing for me.
Of course, Little Annoying Caillou Voice can be right sometimes. I DO pound out words like a baseball player spits sunflower husks during the World Series, but how hard could it be to pull back the reins? To pump the storytelling brakes, as it were. I could do it. I could.
Well . . . you know that story that we won’t talk about anymore? THAT was WAAAAY easier than writing short stories. At least, that was the basis of the mild panic that seeped into my bones about a week before I was to start teaching.
You see, I do love a good short story and I like the CREEPY STUFF. All hail Stephen King’s deliciously twisted Nightmares and Dreamscapes anthology. But me? I write the BIG stuff. I write stories that go on and on, leaving a trail of flesh-eating Easter Eggs in their twisted wake.
I started reading everything I could about the craft of short story writing until a friend slapped some sense into me and said, “Kate – the way you write, you make EVERY chapter a short story.” I did the whole light bulb illuminating, blinky-eye thing and realized, “OMG, I DO!” This friend also pointed out that I’ve been a journalist for YEARS and each article was a short-story in and of itself.
That’s when I stopped panicking. That’s when I realized that a short-story is this small, juicy piece of a larger whole. A short story settles in more towards the climax or the end of a larger picture. A short story follows one, maybe two characters, and one main problem. Despite its limited length, the writer still must tangle in motivation and personality. Potholes must appear to challenge the character and drive the reader to keep going, just like in novel writing.
I got this. I can teach this.
Heck, I love to tackle the mountain and I don’t pull back on the reins. R.R. Martin would think I’ve had my brains cooked by a dragon.
Short stories are a challenge for me, but I’m obsessed with digging into the essence of them. Plus, at the end of the day, I know who I am and what I can tackle. After all, I’m a storyteller first, writer second, and that girl who did the thing in the place when I was younger. I figure if that combination of attributes isn’t a well balanced diet of stupidity and bravery, then I don’t know what is.
So – what will you challenge yourself with as a writer?